Often times you will hear a music writer spill some words about a band or artist that "defies categorization" and "transcends genres" or what have you. Usually it doesn't mean much, as they all fall into fairly broad genres none the less. For me though, I can finally use such cliche language in one of my own music reviews. I am referring to the latest album by one of my favorite musicians in and outside of chiptunes, Jay Tholen.
If you head over to his website right now, you will be greeted with the download link for his latest effort, an odd mixture of personalized lyrics, remixed VGM, and religious currents that weave an amazing, and infectious ten minutes of music. Starting appropriately enough with Song of Creation, a relaxing ballad to the heavens. The short song starts with a recognizable Zelda theme, quickly building on it with inspired lyrics and a calm atmosphere. From there we are met with the memorable menu music from the Zelda series, along with notes of chiptunes and lilting bass in the song Fountain Drinking. The song builds a slightly more tense mood than the intro, with crunching effects and warbling back up notes, creating a more enclosed, darker atmosphere that is reinforced by the forlorn lyrics and driving rhythms.
A cacophony of sound effects rise up above a simple movement in The Spirit Descends on Kakariko Village, a relaxed, atmospheric piece that is over too soon. This leads right into my favorite track on the album, the funky, bass laden, analog tinged Windmill Stomp. Taking the memorable Song of Storms and laying down additional instruments and vocals to create a catchy, yet eerie piece of music that defines this album. Tholen reaches past the nostalgic tug of VGM and warps this track into a simple, inspiring piece of art in his own right.
As we come to the last leg of the album, I have to mention that this album is from a completely different plane than most VGM. Jay Tholen's influences, both musical and not, shine through at almost every step. Lullaby starts acoustically, as we hear strings build and fade like ripples on a pond. As the bass comes in, the music moves fluidly like brush strokes, slowly building up to a softly sung chorus at the center of this piece. As the song slowly fades away, we hear a delicate clattering of instruments fall around the melody. After this relaxing piece things suddenly get amped up for the straight ahead rendition of Saria's Song, bringing the album to an upbeat, yet odd close.
This album plays with VGM as merely a starting point along the way to a larger picture, and I feel it succeeds. The minimalist lyrics even feel like they would belong in the silent, unspoken world of Link and Zelda. It's quite easy to imagine these songs performed by a travelling musician in the world of Hyrule just as easily as envisioning it at a small church basement in our own world.
To reiterate: Jay Tholen released an album available free here. Go download that album, and be amazed once again by the versatility of Jay Tholen.